When we direct our attention to an object, we usually look directly at it, but research just published in the journal Neuron looks at how we focus our attention on things that we notice ‘out of the corner of our eye’.
A research team, led by David Melcher from Oxford Brookes University, has been investigating this process, known to psychologists as implicit selective attention.
They found when focusing on a certain attribute of visual experience – such as colour, the visual system automatically groups other objects of the same colour that move together, even if they are not directly involved in the task at hand.
They also found that objects are understood by the visual system in different ways, depending on whether the object was the focus of attention, or outside of it.
Objects being focused on were understood as wholes by using the fact that all the visual elements have the same surface, whereas objects outside the current focus were grouped in a more basic way, using the fact that visual elements are close together or move in a similar way.